When someone considers a feature film, usually the first question asked is “who stars in the film?” or maybe “who directed/produced the film?.” Many fans rarely become familiar with some of the people who contribute to making a film such as the “illustrator.” The job of an illustrator is to interpret an idea, a concept, or a story visually on paper. Ciara McAvoy has become very successful in this field as she has illustrated for the movie industry for many years. Some of the most notable films for which she has created promotional images include box office classics including Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Legend, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, Interview With The Vampire, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Sherlock Holmes, Mission Impossible, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, X-Men: First Class. Recently, McAvoy was commissioned to illustrate for the feature film “Filth,” starring James McAvoy, Imogen Poots, and Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey).
A Glasgow, Scotland native, McAvoy illustrates over many mediums; science fiction, adventure, and action movie posters and film illustrations as well as sci-fi book covers. However, she specializes in hand-painted, realistic concept art and pre-production art that captures the subjects with pinpoint accuracy and style. In addition to illustrations, McAvoy has worked in costume design and historical fashions for films.
I recently had the pleasure to interview Ciara McAvoy and get some insight into her illustration work:
Where did you study art?
McAvoy: I studied at L'École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (Paris), where I obtained my D.S.A.P (Diplôme Supérieur d'Art Plastique)
Have you always known you wanted to be an artist? How did this career come about?
McAvoy: Yes I have. I started drawing at 8 and painted and sold my first oil "cops" when I was only twelve years old. I get my love of art and I think my talent from my grandfather, who was a painter in Montmartre. I have always loved art and seen things differently I think, at least those around me thought so. I loved movies and when I saw Star Wars I fell in love with movies even more and realized the art I wanted to create was movie art. Movie posters were always enormously inspiring to me, I could see with different artists the fact that they could excite movie fans to see a film at the same time as imbue the art with their unique style and aesthetic. This was fascinating to me. It was never just painting simple things, but getting actors and characters right, giving a feeling of the movie across. These are challenges I find inspiring. I love seeing the art of John Alvin, Tom Jung and others, and how they not only meet the challenges but make a beautiful painting that became classic posters of our time.
Tell me about the project Filth and how you came to be working on that.
McAvoy: Filth is a movie that from the start, as an Indie that covers subjects that are hard to watch with a lead character that is hard to sympathize with, fascinated me. How do these movies, these important movies in terms of balancing those feel good expectation-driven movies in Hollywood--get made? Their budgets make it very hard to promote them, but I became fascinated by the subject matter, by Irvine Welsh's words, and Jon S. Baird (the director)'s interpretation into a film. I wanted to help promote it. I created an image that was in keeping with the film's aesthetic and both the director and producer loved it. We just had to wait until the first campaign by Lionsgate ran its course, so that I can be a part of the US campaign. The image is appropriately shocking (much like the movie) so how and where they use it will be up to the distributor. Things are changing in the way a movie is promoted these days, which allows for an artist like me to create what I want, assuming it will inspire viewership. As an artist, it's important to stick to the spirit of the film.
What is your official title/credit in the film?
McAvoy: That is completely up to the distributor. I created a movie poster for their campaign. Beyond that, I just stay out of it. I'm in my little room painting all day and hand the image over to studio people. All I can do is infuse the art with as much emotion and passion as I can find inside myself.
Do you like Filth and why did you choose this particular scene knowing it would be hard to get the one sheet with it?
McAvoy: For me in this case it was more important to capture the essence of the character and the film than to “play it safe”. I certainly follow the guidelines when working with studios or producers directly, and I knew Jon Baird (director) and Ken Marshall (producer) had a strong vision about keeping the integrity of Irvine Welsh's character in his novel...the book was notoriously hard to capture on film and I wanted to stay true the same way they all did. For me it wasn’t about scandal; it was about the character. He is pretty much “flipping off” the world on the outside, and imploding on the inside. That was the inspiration for the art.
What do you think of the recent award James McAvoy won for this film?
McAvoy: Well, the BIFA is a great honor, and always wonderful for a Scottish person; but it is also well deserved. The film as a whole and James McAvoy in particular are getting great accolades for it. That’s why I’m so thrilled the people in the U.S. will get to see it. They know a great film and great acting when they see it. It is not only a fearless decision but I’m sure also a sound financial one on the part of Magnolia to distribute.
You also provided art work for several other films: Revenge of the Sith, Indiana Jones, Robin Hood and a list of top feature films. You have an impressive resume. What was the most notable or favorite and why?
McAvoy: My favorite is usually the most recent art I've done. All artists hope they are continually getting better. I honestly was proud at the time I created all my art but can't stand to look at anything that wasn't done very recently - probably because artists are their own worse critics. My art for Filth is my favorite so far because I let go of any concern about what is "acceptable" and just painted the character as he is.
One can see by the huge amount of art being created representing film lately that isn't for any particular publication, how hard it is to actually get paid as a traditional illustrator. I'm very proud I can make a living doing what I love.
Your work is also on display at ArtInsights Animation & Film Art Gallery owned by Leslie Combemale. Can you tell me about that gallery and how that has helped your work?
McAvoy: Well first off, I got to know Leslie because she represented one of my favorite inspirations for film art, John Alvin. She had been close friends with him and she clearly loved his work and movies, so I was attracted to know how one art gallery was so in the forefront in film art when no one else was as enthusiastic. She really does work with the best. When she wanted to work with me and sell my art, I was honored. She has the same level of passion as I do and that's hard to find. We too have become close friends and I know she will only find people who will genuinely love my art to sell it to. It's silly but they are all like children to me and those I am willing or allowed to sell have to find the right homes.